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Garth Nix – To Hold The Bridge

July 20, 2015

38. To Hold The Bridge by Garth Nix (2015)

Read By: Christian Coulson, Steven Crossley, Michael Crouch, John Lee, Polly Lee, Davina Porter, Raj Varhma, Nicola Barber, Raphael Corkhill, and Roger Wayne
Length: 13h 25m (416 pages)

Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy (some Science Fiction), mostly but not exclusively Young Adult

Started: 30 June 2015
Finished: 11 July 2015

Where did it come from? From the publishers for Review.
Why do I have it? I like Garth Nix, and really enjoyed his previous short story collection, Across the Wall.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 17 June 2015.

Vampires, the Old
Kingdom, aliens, and more:
this book’s got it all.

Overall Summary and Review: To Hold The Bridge (the book) is a collection of Garth Nix’s short stories, including several set in the worlds from his other series, and some incorporating familiar characters from other authors. They’re mostly fantasy, although there is a section of science fiction as well. In general, I thought this was a very solid collection, with some really excellent pieces, a lot of good ones, and a few that, while I didn’t care for them as much as the others, still weren’t especially weak. I’d read a number of these stories before in various anthologies, but it was nice to revisit them in audio form – each story in this collection was read by a different narrator (I think; there may have been some doubling up but as I can’t find a listing of who reads what, it’s hard to tell.) Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable read.

To Hold the Bridge is a longer short story/short novella set in the same Old Kingdom world as Nix’s Sabriel series. However, as nearly as I could tell, it didn’t have any relationship to his other Old Kingdom books other than being set in the same world, so it was perfectly understandable to someone who hasn’t read them (or someone like me, who read them long enough ago that basically all of the details are completely lost from my memory.) It’s a story of a young man whose alcoholic parents have died, leaving him with nothing but an old share certificate in the Bridge Company. The share certificate also offers the chance to apply to be a cadet in the company, so Morghan heads to the Company’s headquarters, despite having a bad elbow and little-to-no formal schooling. In general, I liked this story – Morghan’s a sympathetic protagonist, Nix’s worldbuilding is good, and there are nice little touches of humor throughout. However, I found the pacing to be a little odd – it’s never boring, but they don’t even get to the bridge of the title until 80% of the way through the story, making it feel like a lot of set-up but an overly rushed climax pay-off.

Vampire Weather is a story of an Amish-like community that distrusts modern technology – including the vaccine that makes most other people in the world immune to the vampires that still hunt in the fog – and what happens when a young man from that community meets a young woman from outside. This story was set up well enough that it felt like a complete world yet also kept me guessing throughout as to what was going on – are the vampires even real? Is there something else sinister happening in the village? What’s the deal with this Tangerine girl anyways? – and what was going to happen next.

Strange Fishing in the Western Highlands is a story of a young doctor who returns to his father’s home on the Loch, only to find it full of military men, his father wearing robes and performing some kind of ritual, and a bizzare demon-like creature who goes by the name of Hellboy. This wasn’t my favorite, since it seemed to rely on at least some familiarity with the Hellboy character that I just didn’t have.

Old Friends is the story of a man(?) who arrives in town to fight an old foe (algae) which is invading the shoreline. But his allies have been slowly been being killed off, so he soon realizes he must face their enemy alone. I didn’t really care for this one – I was confused as to what exactly was going on for much of the story, and the narrator read this in a fairly thick Eastern European accent (very bad-movie-Dracula-esque), which was a choice I didn’t understand at all.

The Quiet Knight – first read in Geektastic. It’s about a LARPer who is more comfortable in his role-playing identity than he is in his real life. Another one that I liked a lot. It’s short but to the point, and relatable to anyone who’s ever wished they could be someone else for a little while.

The Highest Justice – A fairy tale involving a young princess taking her recently-deceased mother to her father the king, in an attempt to determine who poisoned the queen, and the help she receives along the way from the unicorn that is supposed to protect the royal line. When I originally read this (in Zombies vs. Unicorns), it wasn’t my favorite story of the bunch, but it actually stands up maybe a little bit better when it’s not surrounded by other unicorn stories, and it manages to capture the rhythm of a fairy tale really well.

A Handful of Ashes was one of my favorites of this collection. It involves young women – called sizers – who are allowed to study at an exclusive magical college in exchange for acting as servants; they’re looked down on and tormented by the regular students. But when one cruel trick – invoking a forgotten part of the school’s original charter to make the sizers paint their faces with ashes – threatens the stability of the school itself, it’s up to the sizers to save the day. The worldbuilding was simultaneously familiar-feeling and also new, and this story felt whole and complete but still compact and not rushed – exactly like a short story should.

The Big Question – a young man asks what lies beyond the clouds that surround his mountain town. His mother sends him to consult a wise woman who lives in a cave to have his question answered, but the way the answer comes is not a way anyone expected. I didn’t dislike this story, particularly, but it didn’t have anything that really jumped out at me and made it memorable, either.

Stop! – A strange man walks into a nuclear test site, doesn’t react to bullets, and leaves a trail of high-level radiation wherever he goes. I wasn’t a huge fan of this one – it didn’t really grab me, and the pacing felt kind of strange.

Infestation – In this world, volunteers can sign up as hunters to take out vampire nests, but the protagonist is a step above the average hunter… and a leap apart, as well. I remembered enough about the story from the first time I read it (in The Starry Rift) to remember that the narrator is not exactly who he claimed – but I didn’t remember who he actually was, so I had a fun time rediscovering that, and thinking through the ramifications.

The Heart of the City – A story involving soldiers in Paris, who can summon angelic magic, and who are supposed to be meeting strangers who are guarding the Heart of the City. I didn’t particularly care for this one, possibly because I am not as familiar with the period of French history, so I probably missed some of the references, and also because I had a hard time keeping some of the characters straight.

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West – Set in the years after World War I, a man who thought he has left the occult branch of the military secret service behind is summoned back to deal with a new threat that’s arisen in the German forests. I enjoyed this one – I don’t read nearly as much about World War I as I do about World War II, so it was an interesting perspective, and some interesting magic.

Holly and Iron – Another of my favorites of the collection. The young Princess Robin has both English and Norman heritage, and can control both the English Holly magic and the Norman Iron magic, although she doesn’t like to acknowledge either fact, as she’s been living in the forests after the Normans slew the English King. She hatches a plan to kill Duke William, the Norman conquerer who is holding the English throne, as an act of revenge for the deaths of her family – but of course it doesn’t go as planned. I liked how this one incorporated elements of English Druidic tradition along with Norse Mythology, and a bit of Sword in the Stone, and made it all work together.

The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder: As Experienced by Sir Magnus Holmes and Almost-Doctor Susan Shrike – Sir Magnus Holmes is Sherlock’s cousin, and when there’s been a murder with some unusual aspects to it – a fleeing suspect who appears to be made of flowers – he’s sent by Sherlock to consult, for Magnus has a special expertise in matters of the occult and the arcane. I really liked the set-up of this one, and the twist was interesting, but the story was so focused on Magnus that it almost forgot solving the case, and the “solution” that’s offered doesn’t really feel like a solution at all.

An Unwelcome Guest is a fairy tale retelling in which Rapunzel takes up residence in the witch’s tower voluntarily, and because she has invoked guest right, the witch is unable to make her leave without facing nasty retribution. This one was a lot of fun; I liked the modern sensibility and the way Nix incorporated not only aspects of the original fairy tale, but also snuck in surprise elements of others.

A Sidekick of Mars – Told from the point of view of Lem Johnson, a Civil War soldier turned Gold Rush prospecter, who also wound up on Mars alongside John Carter. Having never read any of the John Carter books, I’m sure there was a lot about this I missed, but reading this story doesn’t really make me feel compelled to go out and read the John Carter books.

You Won’t Feel a Thing is set in the same world as Shade’s Children, although about ten years before the events of that novel (I haven’t read that yet, so I can’t tell how related the events/characters are, but I suspect not very.) It’s a world where the adults died, and the children were largely recruited and transformed into animal-like creatures, to various degrees. The story concerns a group of young people who have escaped and are living free in an isolated valley, until The Arkle, a young man who is partially ferret, gets a toothache. This short story did exactly what I think short stories set in larger worlds should do – tell a complete story with enough background to understand it, but still make me curious for more. One of the more emotional stories in the collection, as well.

Peace in Our Time – It involves a master artificer in retirement, and a surprise visitor who wants him to remember things in his past that he’d rather forget. In my original review (for Steampunk!), I had said it was an interesting story, although I had a decent idea of how it was going to play out; I found it less interesting the second time.

Master Haddad’s Holiday – An apprentice assassin is sent to a Fringe planet, ostensibly to try to sell an ancient Earth weapon, but that mission is just cover for something much deeper. A good, action-packed story, but I didn’t quite connect with the political situation in the wider world, so it wasn’t quite as powerful as it could have been.

Recommendation: Fans of Nix’s novels should definitely check this one out; he’s quite good in short-story format as well. Otherwise, I’d recommend it for anyone who likes fantasy short stories – for a single-author collection, he’s got quite an impressive range of styles and tones here. 4 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Couldn’t find any yet, but when there are some, they’ll be at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Morghan stood under the arch of the aqueduct and watched the main gate of the Bridge Company’s legation, across the way.

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